The Edmonton Oilers went through a big change this weekend, and there’s so much to digest. A big portion of the latest 32 Thoughts: The Podcast was entirely Edmonton.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the burning topics discussed.
Is this now Jeff Jackson’s team?
The short answer is yes, I do believe this is Jeff Jackson‘s team now. The longer answer is that I believe the ground shifted under Jay Woodcroft.
Friedman talked at length about how the coaching change boiled down to the question: “Who does Jeff Jackson like?” He likes Kris Knoblauch, and Jackson has been talking up the new coach for “years, and years, and years, and years.”
A Jackson hiring of Knoblauch seemed inevitable, but the timing for the Oilers came at a much-accelerated pace compared to what was expected.
Not a McDavid call to hire Knoblauch
Friedman doesn’t think the hiring of Knoblauch was driven by Connor McDavid and that there are a lot of different dynamics at play. Between Ken Holland being the GM, this hiring is a major sign that this is now Jackson’s organisation. Holland is in the last year of his deal, and he’ll do the work required, but he’ll consult with Jackson for most of his moves.
The turnover to Jackson is happening live and an understanding that the team is now in its transition phase from Holland to Jackson. Because of how big of a fan Jackson is of Knoblauch, this makes it highly likely that the hire was entirely Knoblauch’s call.
Good on the Rangers for letting the Oilers talk to Knoblauch
Some credit was given to the New York Rangers for allowing the Oilers to talk to Knoblauch. In most competitive businesses it’d be acceptable to block such discussions from happening, but the Rangers recognised that Knoblauch didn’t have much further to go with their organisation and by letting him talk with the Oilers, he’d get a better opportunity to become an NHL head coach that gets to coach McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
Failure this year is not an option for Edmonton
Changing the head coach was basically the only scenario they were able to execute on an immediate basis. Teams around the league were willing to wait it out and not necessarily help the Oilers get back on track. The coaching change became one of the only moves available to the team.
Friedman gave Holland some interesting credit for taking the heat for his roster building and how the Oilers couldn’t bench any players to make a statement. In Friedman’s paraphrasing of the message he thinks Holland sent, this is what he had to say.
Holland took the heat for this one. He said: “Look Jay Woodcroft and I had talked about [benchings] but because of the moves I had to make… the roster is too thin to bench anyone.” I give credit to Ken Holland because he didn’t try to blame it on anybody else. He ate it. He took that poop sandwich, he poured some paprika on it, he maybe gave it a couple of other seasonings, and he ate it.
Interesting metaphor there, Friedman. He also thinks that Woodcroft will look at his next job and make sure the option to bench guys when the team underperforms is an option available to him as head coach.
What’s different for the Oilers now?
Jeff Marek asked Friedman what is actually different now. Friedman said this is a last-ditch effort. This isn’t a coaching change because of a failing coach, this is a coaching change because the team had no other moves to make.
Woodcroft’s losing streak came at the absolute worst time. Woodcroft’s worst stretch with the team came at the worst possible time.
This change for the team is simply because they had no choice. They were backed into a corner and this was just the ground shifting.
A tough pill to swallow
Friedman doesn’t think all the players agree with Woodcroft’s firing. The firing came after an Oilers win, so at least everyone was feeling a slight bit better before the news. But on the balance of the team’s start to the season, McDavid is miserable with all the losses the team has picked up. When the whole team is miserable, it makes for a tough environment. Friedman said that Woodcroft tried not to be miserable himself. However, Knoblauch coming in has the task of getting McDavid out of his misery. When the captain is miserable, the whole team becomes that way.
Credit was again given that a player who hates to lose isn’t a bad thing, especially for someone at McDavid’s calibre, but the team is legitimately pissed off with sky-high anger and disappointment.
Tides of change for Edmonton
To sum up the podcast, the change made to Edmonton was a move that they made with no options left. With how the season is perceived by the club with failure not being an option, the only thing the franchise could do was to fire Woodcroft.
Further, Changes are being made at the discretion of Jeff Jackson rather than Holland and the team is in a transition phase. Over time, more and more moves will be driven by Jackson as Holland effectively offboards on his own pace.
What’s next for the Oilers depends entirely on what happens on the ice. They’ll have to see whether they can turn this ship around with Knoblauch as head coach. The hole they’ve gotten themselves into is a deep one, but this team still believes.
Listen to the full 32 Thoughts episode here.